One of the most widely told and best loved stories of the northwest coast people is that of Natsilane and how he created the first killer whale. Although many variations can be found, they all have the same characters, the same basic storyline, and the same cultural richness.
I set out to symbolically retell this story through this mobile. The first character from the top is Natsilane himself. He is depicted carrying a spear because among other things, he was known as a superb hunter, especially of sea lions. He also has the dorsal fin of an orca due to his close spiritual connection with that magnificent creature. Next comes a totemic figure of a sea lion representing the sea lion chief. According to the legend he was responsible for Natsilane's rescue and for giving him special powers for carving which he later used to seek out his revenge. The human figure inside the sea lion chief represents Natsilane and the bond that was forged between the two of them.
The next three figures are totemic representations of the "blackfish" or killer whales that Natsilane carved. Natsilane had 3 brothers-in-law of whom 2 were very jealous of his hunting and carving skills. The youngest looked up to him and strove to be like him. Inside each of the whales is a human figure symbolizing the 3 brothers-in-law in the story. The two in red are the ones that suffered Natsilane's revenge and the one in black, represents the youngster who idolized him. There is also further symbolism in these figures that relates more to pacific northwest culture than to this particular story. Each of the four dorsal fins on Natsilane and the killer whales have inset abalone circles which represent the sun.
Although it may be difficult to see in these pictures, each character has traditional decorative sections painted in red or black. Each piece has been cut from birch wood, then sanded, stained or painted, and finally varnished. The process from start to finish takes approximately 3 weeks and are one of a kind. I will be creating mobiles representing many aspects of Northwest Coast cultures in the future, including various legends and important creatures. I've not seen mobiles created before using northwest coast totemic styles so this piece is truly unique. If you would like to read the entire story of Natsilane and how he created the first killer whale, click on the "Northwest Stories" link below and it will take you there. Enjoy!